Over the holidays I had the rare pleasure of having my son help me bake cookies for a Christmas cookie exchange. It was rare not only because I never bake, but also because he’s 16 years old, and although he is accommodating with chores, getting him to help in the kitchen is like pulling teeth. Perhaps seeing cookies in his future, he was surprisingly happy to help this time. Music was playing and our hands were full of dough when in a very nonchalant manner, he said his best friend’s girlfriend was in the hospital after trying to commit suicide.

Cue the screeching sound they play in the movies when everything comes to an abrupt halt, the world narrows, and all time seems to stand still.

Up until this point, teen suicide was something that was happening all around our family, but never so close to home. How could this happen to someone my son knows so well? I had just met this young woman a few months before when taking pictures before the Homecoming dance. A gorgeous girl, she seemed happy and full of life, smart and kind. I met her parents that day too, and they also seemed to have everything going for them…huge house with a mountain view, three beautiful girls, two dogs. The American dream.

Everything appeared perfect. But turns out that may be one of the problems. Recent coverage on teen mental health from Colorado Public Radio talked about the pressures that our kids feel to be perfect in this day and age. Pressure from their parents, their peers, their teachers, themselves. Teens interviewed talked about feeling immense pressure to get excellent grades (4.0 is no longer good enough, it has to be higher to get into many top colleges), to be great at sports or engage in other time-consuming extracurricular activities, have lots of friends and likes on social media, etc.

A recent analysis by CIVHC indicated that one out of every four visits to the Emergency Department for a mental health-related primary diagnosis was for children under the age of 18. The most common diagnosis for kids coming to the ED for care for a mental health concern was major depression. That tells me that we are not helping our children get help when they need it, which is before it gets to the point where they wind up needing an emergency visit.

There are many efforts underway in Colorado to help those living with mental health conditions including improving diagnosis and treatment, reducing stigma around seeking care when needed, increasing the number of mental health providers to improve access, and integrating mental and physical health care. There are many amazingly selfless people in Colorado and across the nation that are doing wonderful work helping kids and adults living with mental health concerns. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to this complex issue, but from the data and increase in tragic events, I do know that as adults, it is incumbent upon us all to do more and continue to find ways to increase support for our youth and each other.

Access CO APCD ED Mental Health Related Data: